My Biological Grandmother

I am tearing up. I am staring at a classic sepia photo of my biological mother and grandmother, the latter dressed in traditional kente and a scarf that rivals most geles. My mother is dressed in an embroidered bubu which although of a silky texture, matches Grandmother’s color scheme. I’m dying to know what the occasion was, and what they were thinking while they posed for it. I tear up because a year ago I lost my Grammie, (not to be mistaken with Grandmother). I miss the relationship I had with her and I wish I had the same or better with my own grandmother.

I could always count on Grammie to have a hug and kiss for me whenever I showed up even as she was in pain or struggling to breathe. My own grandmother acts like I have the plague. If she so much as smells a hug coming her way, she puts up both arms like a she’s going to do vertical push-ups, chuckles nervously, and begins talking about the weather. This creates a force field around her that makes it impossible to hug her. At first I would plow through. I recall a particularly comical episode. After five years of living in the US, my sister and I returned to Ghana for the first time. With our new-found Americanisms we attempted to hug her. Disaster! She stuck out her hand and tried to grab our outstretched hands in a handshake. Talk about Awkward. After sixteen years of us being away she’s perfected this hugshake.

After sixteen years, I’ve given up even attempting to hug her. Over the last five months of living in Ghana, I’ve gotten our interactions down to a science: I visit about every two weeks. I walk in arms overflowing with groceries, say hello, drop them in the kitchen, and then go sit opposite her so she can see my hands at all times :D. I sit briefly, politely asking how she is and what new aches have developed since I last saw her, then I either head off to my room to nap or get online, or head to the kitchen to talk with the ladies who take care of her. Sometimes I book dinner appointments with old neighborhood friends so I get to leave this childhood home fraught with memories. Over the last few weeks, I’ve realized that I dread even this scientific arrangement.

I felt guilty about this dread until I had two close friends visit me from abroad. Of course I had to take them home! Wouldn’t you know she hugged them both, even kissed the back of their hands? Grandmother! Yes! British, stoic, no-emotion Grandmother went ga-ga over my American friends. Telling them they were welcome to come visit anytime even if I wasn’t there. Telling them she would miss them terribly only after less than a six-hour interaction. I would say race was a factor in this equation but they were not both white. (That’s a story for another day). Was it genuine? Was she acting? Why can’t I get this from her?

As much as people tell me to enjoy her while she’s alive, it only makes me miss Grammie more. It makes me question my loyalty, no doubt, but it makes me realize what I cherish most and how I’d like to spend my days on earth. I don’t want to spend it fixing my hair just so Grandmother won’t complain that my tresses are matted like a madwoman’s. Or wearing sleeved dresses so she doesn’t comment on me showing off my bony arms. Nor do I want to spend it being quizzed about how I spend my money. I’m adjusting my priorities. I’m sure it won’t come without some guilt, but honestly if I get nothing healthy from a relationship, I need to cut my losses. I’m done waiting for that one day when she’ll approve of my outfit or my matted madwoman’s hair (my twists/locs). I’m done wishing for Grandmother to turn into Grammie; I am accepting my lot in her and trying to love us both. But in the meantime, I’m going to take care of me and if it means less face-time with her, then that’s the way it has to be.

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